Many years ago I transitioned from a local pastor of a Southern Baptist church to serve as a missionary with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. I asked the Lord to give me a way that I could continue to be a personal witness for Him wherever I may go.
He gave me the idea of asking my restaurant waiters when I when out to eat if they have a personal prayer request that only the Lord Jesus could meet in their lives, a practice I have continued to this day. Over the years, I have had the privilege to give a Gospel witness to hundreds of people during a meal time.
One such occasion stands out. I asked a young lady if she had a prayer request that only Jesus could meet in her life and she said yes, please pray for my mother who has cancer. I asked the name of her mother. I had the privilege to pray for her mother.
Later in the lunch, I asked her another question. I said, “If you were to die today, where would you spend eternity?” She said, “Heaven.” I asked if it was okay to ask another question, to which she replied yes. I asked, “If Jesus were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’, what would you say?” Somewhat predictably, she said she had lived a good life.
I asked her, “If what you believe about salvation is not true, would you want to know the truth?” When she answered in the affirmative, I had the privilege to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her. She kneeled down beside me there in the restaurant and I had the personal privilege to hear her confess her faith and trust in Jesus Christ as her Lord.
It is very important personally to endeavor to give a verbal witness about the Lord wherever we may be and wherever we may go (see, for example, Matthew 28:19).
We frequently think of The Baptist Faith and Message as a doctrinal statement of faith, and it is. But it is more. It is also a practical guide, highlighting the core values of our faith and practice.
Article XI addresses evangelism and missions. It helps us as Southern Baptists keep the main thing the main thing by lifting up evangelism and missions as part of our biblical belief system, foundation, and heritage.
“It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations.”
The mission of the church is simple: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19–20).
But, how does the church accomplish this great task of making disciples? Baptists have believed the way God accomplishes His purpose is by planting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in communities where individuals will be saved, small groups will be started, new churches will be birthed, existing churches will be cultivated, and dying churches will be revitalized. These are the natural effects of evangelism and missions.
To this end, Jesus expects every follower to be involved in making disciples of all the nations. We have the responsibility to make Christ’s name known among people of all ethnic groups. The Gospel must be preached to the poor, to the privileged, to the prisoners, to the proud, and to people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. The command is clear—all peoples.
This statement helps us not only understand that we have the privilege of sharing Christ, but we must endeavor personally to make disciples in the name of Christ. The church must be involved in the lives of people who need to hear that salvation is a free gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This free gift of God is offered regardless of socioeconomic background or ethnicity. The church has the responsibility to minister to everyone in the church’s field of service as well of those throughout their community. When the church is willing to extend her ministry outside of her local community, this is called missions. The church must constantly fight the temptation of complacency and be willing to minister in her Jerusalem, and then move out of her Jerusalem in the name of Christ.
Proclamation of the Gospel
“The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the Gospel to all nations.”
Many people believe that preaching of the Gospel is reserved for those who have been called as professional ministers in the church. It is a misconception to think that preaching means standing behind the pulpit or in front of a big crowd of people.
In the New Testament, the word “to preach” is one of the root words for evangelism (Luke 4:18). It is incumbent upon every believer to proclaim Christ as a minister of reconciliation in order to evangelize the sinner (2 Corinthians 5:18–20). Such proclamation comes from a heart of love (2 Corinthians 5:14).
The proclamation of the Gospel is grounded in both obedience and love. It is incumbent upon the individual believer and upon the church to show God’s love by becoming more vigilant and intentional about making disciples of all the nations.
God is love (1 John 4:7); and love is of God (1 John 4:8). It was love that prompted God’s only Son to die for men and women to receive eternal life. As one of the trademarks of a Christian’s life, the Christ-follower should be known by how well the fruit of love is displayed toward others (Galatians 5:22). Such love will be demonstrated by those who are new creations as a symbol of their new birth in Jesus Christ.
Nowhere is this love more apparent than when we share the Good News of Jesus with those who are lost. The manifestation of such love for God and for others is a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit working in the life of a Christian.
“It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the Gospel of Christ.”
The book of Acts gives us a record of the followers of Christ telling the story of Christ and the many people who became new creatures. They were persuaded by the verbal witness of the early believers (Acts 2:38–40; 13:42–44; 17:2–4; 18:4, 12–13; 19:8, 28:23–24).
Jesus promised that His followers would receive power after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit gives power to live an abundant life, power to deal with pain, power to live holy—and power to witness.
The focus of biblical evangelism emphasizes the necessity for a verbal witness. Is it possible that we have confused the methods of evangelism with the practice of evangelism? Is knocking on doors in our communities simply to invite people to church an effective evangelism strategy? Do we think merely hosting a block party, holding a fall festival, or opening our doors for recreational events is truly doing evangelism?
All of these events are good; but unless we verbally share the Good News of Jesus Christ and give a person an opportunity to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, then we have not done evangelism. We have not tried to persuade the person to consider Christ. We may have ministered in His name but we have not preached Jesus.
Some may think this approach is very narrow. But, evangelism is sharing Christ out of an overflow of an intimate relationship with him and leaving the results to God. Evangelism is preaching/proclaiming the Good News—to the poor, the broken-hearted, and the lost.
Evangelism is sharing our salvation testimony and letting others know that Jesus died for them, too. Evangelism is the beginning point of making a disciple. Discipleship is definitively more than merely membership with names on the church’s roster, though membership in a local church is very important as the forum for fellowship. Jesus Christ did not say go and make members, but rather go and make disciples of all the nations. Disciples are followers and imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are ones who are willing to obey His commandments.
In 2015, Southern Baptist churches reported the lowest number in baptisms since World War II. Questions are being asked by church leaders: “Why is there a decline in baptisms? Why are churches dying?”
The issue is that the people of God are not putting into practice what we say we believe— sharing the love of God by giving a verbal witness of the Gospel. We can witness with great assurance that His Word will not return void; it will accomplish what He pleases (Isaiah 55:11). We can also witness with the assurance that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
It is up to us as His disciples to give verbal witness, then trust the Holy Spirit to do His job of convicting the sinner of sin, God’s righteousness, and the coming judgment (John 16:8–11). When He does, many will believe in Him and receive Him as Lord and Savior (see, for example, John 4:39, 41; 7:31; 8:30; 10:42; 11:45; 12:42; Acts 4:4; 9:42; 17:12; 18:8; 19:18; 21:20).
Four Core Convictions
The five sentences of Article XI of The Baptist Faith and Message can be summarized under these four core convictions.
- Christians must engage in personal evangelism at home and evangelistic missions abroad, demonstrating a genuine love for God and all people.
- Christians must be passionate in being present in the lives of lost people, ministering to them at their point of material and spiritual need.
- Christians must verbally and persuasively proclaim Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Christians must leave the results to God, resting assured in His promises that our labor is not in vain and that His Word will not return void!
Weathersby previously served as church planter/pastor of churches in Cincinnati and Baton Rouge; church planting strategist for the Tennessee Shelby Association of Baptists (now Mid-South Association); director of evangelism for the Tennessee Baptist Convention; director of the Cecil B. Day Center for Church Planting and associate professor of church planting at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; vice president for church planting with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), where he helped launch the nationwide God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS) evangelism strategy; NAMB senior strategist for evangelization, overseeing the annual Crossover witnessing events; African American church multiplication team leader with NAMB; and presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations with NAMB and the SBC Executive Committee.
Ken Weathersby is vice president for Convention advancement with the SBC Executive Committee and is a founding member of Living Grace Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.